Spider-Man and the Hulk notwithstanding, the X-Men have been Marvel Comics' big attraction for more than two decades. Trouble is, the X universe's continuity has grown so convoluted, moviegoers turned on by the first film were then turned off by the comics. Marvel has since made its numerous ''X-Men'' titles more accessible. So, if ''X2: X-Men United'' has you looking for a comic-book fix, here's where you'll find the goods.
''NEW X-MEN'' Although no stranger to superheroes, postmod Scottish scribe Grant Morrison is cast somewhat against type here -- with impressive results. A recent issue has telepath Jean Grey learning that her man Cyclops has been psychically shtupping another woman -- hardly heroic, but page-turningly bitchy stuff.
''ULTIMATE X-MEN'' Launched after the first X-movie, ''Ultimate'' offers a streamlined, screen-influenced version. Writer Mark Millar will take advantage of this freedom by, say, recasting Cyclops and Wolverine as bitter rivals; with none of their usual ties binding them, Wolverine gets jealous, and hapless Cyke winds up with multiple compound fractures.
''UNCANNY X-MEN'' The title that started it all has been around since 1963 -- and at times reads like it. But it sure doesn't look like it lately, thanks to newly imported Japanese artist Kia Asamiya, until now a virtual unknown Stateside. Asamiya's manga-honed style is ''eXotic'' with a capital...well, you know.
X-CETERA One of the earliest graphic novels, 1982's ''X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills'' introduced ''X2'''s antimutant crusader, William Stryker (a somewhat altered version of the character is played by Brian Cox in the new film). Recently reprinted, seminal ''X-Men'' writer Chris Claremont's story is a look at an evolving medium; quaint thought bubbles mix with images of executed mutant children.
Upcoming issues of the ongoing monthly ''X-Treme X-Men'' will feature a sequel, which is a slicker, quicker-paced tale than its predecessor, but clearly still Claremont, who's always written the X-Men as both pulp heroes and high-minded metaphors for the evils of intolerance.
To catch him at his best, check out a paperback collection of his ''Dark Phoenix Saga,'' with the X-Men's signature artist John Byrne. You'll finally understand those cryptic ''X2'' references to Jean Grey's slow-boiling dark side -- and get a clue as to what was floating underwater in the film's finale.